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Ruling headers… (or, Placing a Rule Behind a Header)

Consider this part 2 in the series ‘working with text on a tinted background ;-) Part 1 being yesterday’s blog-post Center that vertically? (Framed).
Where the previous post pointed to framed text frames, which are useful for ads, book-cover designs, poster designs etc. Today’s paragraph rules work well for those headings that appear as part of your text flow. Often I see people cut such heading text out of the text-flow and place it in a separate frame so that it can have a background colour.

That gives its own issues:

  • unpredictable Table of Contents order where text from these paragraphs is filtered out.
  • a change in one part of the text flow would mean having to manually move all of those headings (unless you’ve thought of anchoring those boxes ;-) )

Paragraph Rule

InDesign’s paragraph rule feature allows you add a ‘line’ to a paragraph, in fact it allows you to add ‘two’ lines to a paragraph. These lines can be varying width and they can be repositioned, making them suitable for generating that background colour on a heading/subheading type paragraph, as these generally only are one or two lines in length.

Paragraph Rules dialog with Rule Above/Below listed.

The Paragraph Rule settings are found in the Paragraph Styles Options dialog, the Control panel menu and the Paragraph panel menu.

Paragraph Rules in Paragraph Style Options dialog

Increase the Weight to change the thickness of the line. And amend the Offset to move the line upwards or downwards.

Edited Weight and Offset

There one more setting I’d normally enable on a ‘Rule Above’ especially when the paragraph can appear at the top of a text frame, and that is the “Keep in Frame” option. This ensures the line doesn’t stick outside the top of the frame.Keep in Frame option enabled

Naturally there are a range of other settings to play with…

  • Width can be set to Column (the width of the text column, minus the left/right indent setting that might have been applied to the text) or Text.
  • The ‘Left and Right Indent” can contain negative values… and yes… you can push a rule outside the text frame :) or counter balance a left/right indent setting with this, or add a little buffer around your text when using the ‘Text” option as width settings.

Some cooler things you can do with Paragraph Rules

  • create a gradient swatch and use a gradient as rule colour
  • build your own stroke style (Type) even a solid dash with ’round’ caps to ’round’ the edges of the rule
  • apply a dual rule (above and below) with varying Left Indent/Right Indent settings or width settings to create some cool effects
  • and more…

Feel free to share some of your creative results when working with paragraph rules in the comments.

Here’s two older ones I posted on my own blog some time ago:

Cari Jansen

Cari Jansen

Cari Jansen is based in Perth, Western Australia and works throughout Australia as a technical writer/editor, print, electronic (EPUB, Kindle, Tablets, Adobe DPS) and eLearning publishing consultant, software trainer, course developer, and public speaker. She's an Adobe Certified Instructor (Adobe Acrobat, Digital Publishing Suite, Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop), Adobe Certified Expert (Adobe Captivate and Muse) and an Adobe Community Professional and Adobe Training Partner based in Australia. In 2008 she founded the Perth inDesign User Group, which she ran until late 2013. You'll meet Cari at industry events, both as an attendee and speaker, speaking on a range of print and digital publishing technologies and trends. To learn more about Cari, visit her web-site: You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and YouTube
Cari Jansen

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18 Comments on “Ruling headers… (or, Placing a Rule Behind a Header)

  1. I use a colored rule to create a box the full width of the text block and the height of my header text. Then I use underline of the same height but of a lighter color. I end up with text one color, say a dark green, with very light green immediately surrounding it and then an inbetween green filling in the rest of the box. Takes a little bit of time to set up the first time but as a paragraph style after that, easy!

  2. I’ve used these techniques many times. One of my favorites that I like to use is:

    Set both rules to different colors, with the Rule Above taller than the Rule Below. Adjust Offset so the two Rules overlap behind the text. Now you’ve got a colored box with a wide top and bottom border of a different color. Just remember that the Rule Above will be behind the Rule Below (which kind of doesn’t make sense). You can also adjust the width of the Rule Below to make the border go all the way around it. :)

    I had never thought of using my own stroke type, though…that may be very handy in the future. :)

  3. I have a problem with a paragraph rule, but it’s a little bit different. The rule is a paragraph style that always appears on right pages (chapter opening). I set a negative indent so the rule extends through all the left page. It appears ok, but when I export a pdf, the rule appears only in the right page, not in the left?

  4. @Silvio, this problem occurs because InDesign considers the rule to belong on the other page. and when you output separate pages it won’t appear on the other page indeed (I’ve seen this happen in quite a few client projects). The work-around is to just use the line tool and draw two separate lines one on the Left and one on the Right page.


  5. Thanks Cari, very useful tutorial. And for endash for pointing me here.

    I used the paragraph rule to add a solid block at the start of the header section and indented my text, so the first two lines of the paragraph have a coloured square to set off the heading.

    Settings for paragraph rule are:
    weight: 15pt
    colour: (text colour) crimson
    type: solid
    width: column
    offset: -1mm
    right indent: -81mm (so the block is about 4mm wide)
    keep in frame: yes

    Then, I adjusted the Indents and Spacing:
    alignment: left
    left indent: 5mm

    The basic character formats are:
    Myriad Pro, Bold, 12pts/ Leading 14.4pts

    (used on day to day itinerary)

  6. I should also mention that the text box width is 157.75mm (with three columns on a A4 page in landscape).

    If it is different, then you need to adjust the right indent accordingly.

    Do you know if there is a way to do this differently so I can use the paragraph rule on different width text areas but to maintain the width of the ‘colour block’?


  7. *edit’

    I should also mention that the text box width is 85mm (with three columns on a A4 page in landscape).
    If it is different, then you need to adjust the right indent accordingly.
    Do you know if there is a way to do this differently so I can use the paragraph rule on different width text areas but to maintain the width of the ‘colour block’?

  8. Hi everyone,

    I hope you can help me. This is regarding applying paragraph rules behind the text. Is there a way to apply a rule to a line if i’ve applied a forced return, which happens when I do a bulleted list. Thanks in advance.


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